NASA’s Artemis project has goals of landing humans back on the moon, but the new budget makes it unlikely it will be happening soon. (Photo by History in HD on Unsplash)
I love this. Our government actually doing something useful.
This past week Congress completed work on an omnibus spending bill that will allocate just over $24 billion dollars to NASA. A number that large for an agency so dynamic, of course, requires context—the final number, though more than the previous year, is $760 million less than the White House requested and less than half of NASA’s budget in the golden age of space exploration. This decision also comes nearly halfway into the fiscal year 2022, which began back on October 1st. To cope with the delay in passing a budget, many government agencies operate on a series of Continuing Resolutions, stopgaps that keep operations funded essentially at the same level as previous years. However, this means that if you need to reduce funding for programs that are ending or increase funding elsewhere, like an operation to land humans on the moon, you’re out of luck.
So yes, NASA has now gotten most of the budget requested in its formal request submitted back in May of 2021—$760 million is a relatively small percentage of $24 billion. There are no dramatic changes, just modest cuts or increases across the budget. All of NASA’s human spaceflight, science, technology, aeronautics, and STEM education programs are funded, as are agency operations. NASA also succeeded in getting full support for its Human Landing System (HLS) program, which is needed for the Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon. This is a change from last year, when Congress approved only 25 percent of the budget, forcing the agency to choose only one HLS contractor—SpaceX won the contract, which prompted protests by competitors that slowed the program for seven months.
The FY2022 requested HLS budget was $1.195 billion, reduced from the previously requested $3.4 billion. Getting the full requested amount is great but remains less than half of the estimated cost required to build it. This certainly explains why the Artemis program’s original goal of boots back on the moon by 2024 is now a more vague promise of sometime this decade. There’s also the budget for the SLS Saturn V moon rocket, set at $2.6 billion for 2022—enough to allow for the launch of one rocket per year.
The FY2022 budget has passed through both Congress and the Senate and now just awaits President Biden’s signature. NASA’s FY2023 budget request has not yet been submitted. Though next year’s budget requests are legally required by the first Monday in February, this rarely happens, especially when Congress itself is late finishing the previous year’s appropriations. It was expected that the request would be sent in March, but the war in Ukraine means that unexpected modifications to the defense portion may be required. Subcommittee appropriators have also told NASA to provide a plan explaining how HLS will meet goals like redundancy, sustainability, and competition within the amount provided for FY2022 and the amount requested for FY2023, to be made publicly available within thirty days from the enactment of the Act.
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